Thursday, September 30, 2010

You win some you lose some

Part of the adventure of cooking is trying new recipes.  Sometimes the results are wonderful and you have something new to add to your repertoire.  Other times...well other times things don't go so well.

I don't usually go in for the organic/gluten free/vegan/sugar free etc....... stuff.  Don't get me wrong, if that's your thing that's awesome..but it's not my thing.  So when I found this recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly bars I wasn't really inspired.  But through a strange confluence of events I found myself in possession of ALL of the ingredients for this recipe...including the organic peanut butter and jelly.  I figured that it was fate and I decided to give the organic/vegan/whole grain/etc. thing a chance. 

I got this recipe from Her Honest Life and I'm sure that I screwed something up, because her PB&J bars looked yummy. 

I started by grinding up the dry ingredients for the crust.....It became instantly clear that something was not right.  The dough wasn't forming the promised ball.  I added more oil...still nothing.  More dice.  Finally I threw veganism to the wind and added an egg.  That did the trick and the whole thing came togther into a lovely, nutty, oatey mass. 

I rolled it all out and spread the PB and J on their respective dough halves...I even managed to flip the peanut butter one on top of the jelly one with little trouble. 

I baked them according to the instructions and when they came out of the oven I was hopeful.  Sadly, they were way too dry.  I just don't know where I went wrong....the concept seemed so good.

Alas I have to say that Organic/vegan/whole wheat/no sugar Peanut Butter and Jelly bars will not be added to my everyday baking repertoire.  I did find a different recipe from Ina Garten containing lots of butter and sugar that I'm going to try.  I just don't think I'm cut out for veganism.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Farm Fresh Wednesday

The friendly farmer showed up again today with another basket full of goodness. Here's a look at what he brought:

There is Corn, Potatoes, teeny tiny grape tomatoes, as well as some plum tomatoes, a bunch of apples, some green peppers and what is likely the last of the summer squash. 

I realized last week that I neglected to tell you the name of my friendly local farm.  All of this bounty comes from Great Country Farms.  If you live in the Northern Virginia area I highly recommend that you take a trip out for some great agritourism!  There is loads of stuff for the kids including a petting farm, giant slides and a big jumping pillow.  And for the grown-ups there is a beautiful winery across the street called the Bluemont Vinyard.  Your admission to Great County Farms gets you a free wine tasting at the vineyard! 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Strawberry Milkshakes

This week, instead of raiding the pantry I went to the big chest freezer in the garage.  I dug around in there a while, coming out every now and then to avoid frostbite, and finally emerged with a big bag of sunshine.

Well, not literally.  I found a bag of the strawberries that we picked at the farm and then saved in sugar syrup in the freezer.  Strawberries are notorious for spoiling quickly and being difficult to preserve unless you are making jam.  I have found that the best way to preserve them whole is the sumberge them in a sugar solution and freeze them flat in plastic bags.  When you are ready to use them just break off a chunk and run them under cold water to rinse off the sugar.  The strawberries won't be anything as fabulous as fresh berries.  They will be sort of mushy but they will still have great fresh strawberry flavor and are good for baking or making shakes!

The secret to great milkshakes - LOTS of ice cream, LOTS of strawberries and just enough milk to get the blender going.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Well, it's Monday again and you know what that get to be the first to know what my family will be eating this week (or in the case of my 4-year-old will be begged to eat).  whoo hooo!!

Tuesday -- Chicken Tikka Masala

Thursday -- Thick-Cut Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Hoisin-Sesame Sauce

Saturday -- Southeast Asian-Style Spring Rolls and Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps

Sunday -- saurbraten and spaetzel (oktoberfest baby!!!)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Skillet Apple Crisp

Remember when I told you that our farm delivery was a little culinary adventure every week?  Well this week's challenge involved apples.  Several apples came in the farm box, add to that they fact that I had just bough a bag of apples the day before.  Add to THAT the fact that the little one got into the farm box and took a teeny tiny bit out of EVERY apple leaving them defenseless against the hoard of fruit flies trying to take hold in my kitchen.

Something had to be done!!

That something was Skillet Apple Crisp.   (Scroll down for the recipe from Cook's Illustrated.)  The hardest part of this recipe was pealing and slicing the apples.  It was ridiculously delicious even before it was topped with some Ben and Jerry's Vanilla ice cream.  It was also gone in a single day.  And best of all....only one pan to wash!!  YUMM!!



3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup pecans , chopped fine
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (see note)
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter , melted
3 pounds Golden Delicious apples (about 7 medium), peeled, cored, halved, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (see note)
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


  1. FOR THE TOPPING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine flour, pecans, oats, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl. Stir in butter until mixture is thoroughly moistened and crumbly. Set aside while preparing fruit filling.
  2. FOR THE FILLING: Toss apples, granulated sugar, and cinnamon (if using) together in large bowl; set aside. Bring cider to simmer in 12-inch ovensafe skillet over medium heat; cook until reduced to ½ cup, about 5 minutes. Transfer reduced cider to bowl or liquid measuring cup; stir in lemon juice and set aside.
  3. Heat butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add apple mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until apples begin to soften and become translucent, 12 to 14 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.) Remove pan from heat and gently stir in cider mixture until apples are coated.
  4. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit, breaking up any large chunks. Place skillet on baking sheet and bake until fruit is tender and topping is deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack until warm, at least 15 minutes, and serve.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Try Something New Thursday

For a long time I've been collecting recipes for the internet or from random cookbooks thinking that I would try them someday...well today is the day!!  And every Thursday for that matter.....I'm delving into my archives and picking out a new recipe to try.

I'm going to start it off right with Hot Chocolate On a Stick.  This recipe is from Giver's Log and if you haven't visited her site you are really missing out! 

The recipe is very basic....which allows lots of room for interpretation and modification.  I searched around in the pantry and found that I had enough of all of the ingredients to make about 2 batches each consisting of 8 items.  I don't have any fancy silicone molds, and I wasn't big on the idea of using ice cube trays.  What I do have is a cache of mini-muffin liners that I got on sale after Valentines Day.  So I figured that I would give them a go.  I filled one with water and found that they hold almost exactly 1oz - Perfection!!  So I filled up a mini-muffin tray with liners and got started.

The first batch is for the kiddies.  I used milk chocolate and didn't add any extras.  The second batch is for adults.  I used dark chocolate and added some coffee flavoring.

First you need to melt the chocolate.  There are a bunch of ways to melt chocolate, but I prefer the old fashioned double boiler method.  The first rule of melting chocolate is NO WATER.  Even a tiny drop of water will make the whole thing seize up.  So, if you're following along, I just told you to put your chocolate over a pot of steam, but not to get any water in the chocolate.  Life is full of challenges.

After the chocolate is melted you add powdered sugar and cocoa and whatever flavorings you like (remember no no vanilla extract or run or anything like that.)  I left the kid's sticks au natural, and added about 1/4 cup of powdered espresso to the grown-up sticks.

After I added the dry ingredients, the mixture got thick...and I mean really thick.  The instructions said the use a icing bag and pipe it into your mold...but it was pretty clear that that was not going to happen. So instead I used s spoon and just plopped some of the chocolate mixture into each mini-muffin cup. 

The whole project took me about an 45 minutes.  Which means that I was able to get it done before I was informed (in no uncertain terms) that it was time for a nap.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Farm Fresh Wednesday

At our house Wednesday is farm day.  More specifically, it's the day that the shipment from our local farm arrives.  For three years now we have bought a farm share from Great Country Farm, so every week during the summer and into the fall we receive a big box full of fruits and veggie that only a few hours earlier were still attached to a plant.

If there is a farm in your area that offers this service I highly recommend that you take advantage of it.  Not only will you be getting pretty much the freshest in-season produce available, but you will be supporting a local business and it's fabulous to know exactly where your food is coming from!  Top that all off with the fact that you will be exposed to new produce that you may not have purchased in the grocery store.  Every week brings a little culinary adventure!

Here's what came this week:  Beets with the beet greens
                                                Apples (Look for upcoming post on skillet apple crisp featuring these!)
                                                White patty pan squash
                                                Asian Pears
                                                Green beans
                                                Banana pepper (I have NO IDEA what to do with these...suggestions??)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Raiding the Pantry

My pantry and freezer are a disaster.  I'm not talking a little cluttered.  I'm talking a call out hazmat and put on the yellow biohazard suit sort of disaster.  Okay....maybe not quite that bad.  But still, not ideal in any sense of the word.  I've got a lot of stuff in there and I don't even know what most of it is.

So here's my plan...every Tuesday I'm gonna stick my hand in there (hope nothing bites it) and pull something out.

This week I've got this:

Long Grain Wild Rice.

I don't know when I bought this, or why I have never bothered to cook it.  I really like wild rice.  So I went to my go-to source for recipes - Cook's Illustrated and found a recipe for Wild Rice Pilaf with Pecans and Dried Cranberries.  Not only would this allow me to use the wild rice, but the pecans and cranberries in my pantry as well.  Score!!

I will post the full recipe from Cook's Illustrated below, but here are the highlights.

First I collected up all my ingredients.  I'm using cranberries and pecans, but I bet you could use just about any dried fruit and nut that you had on hand.  You may also notice that I'm using store bought stock here.  This is one of the concessions I had to make when I went from being a foodie to a foodie momma.  Someday, when the kids are all in school, I'll make real stock again, until then it's Swanson.

You boil the wild rice in some stock with a bay leaf and some thyme. 

Meanwhile I sauteed the veggies in some butter and then added the white rice and some water.  The cranberries get sprinkled on top and both pans putter away for a while.

 Finally, you mix the rices together with some parsley and the toasted nuts. 

This dish turned out to be really delicious.  Making the wild rice was harder than making regular white rice, but really not that much harder.  And I think that the extra effort is worth it.  My oldest son has already given it the thumbs and and ate some for his after school snack!  
I'm serving it with Roasted Pork with Peach sauce and steamed Broccoli.

Check below for the complete recipe!




Wild Rice Pilaf with Pecans and Dried Cranberries


1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
8 sprigs fresh thyme , divided into 2 bundles, each tied together with kitchen twine
1 cup wild rice , rinsed well and picked over
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 large carrot , chopped fine (about 1 cup)

table salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries , sweetened or unsweetened
3/4 cup pecans , toasted in small dry skillet over medium heat unitl fragrant and lightly browned, about 6 minutes, then chopped coarse
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Ground black pepper


  1. Bring chicken broth, 1/4 cup water, bay leaves, and 1 bundle thyme to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add wild rice, cover, and reduce heat to low; simmer until rice is plump and tender and has absorbed most liquid, 35 to 45 minutes. Drain rice in mesh strainer to remove excess liquid. Return rice to now-empty saucepan; cover to keep warm and set aside.
  2. While wild rice is cooking, place white rice in medium bowl and cover with 2 inches water; gently swish grains to release excess starch. Carefully pour off water, leaving rice in bowl. Repeat about 5 times, until water runs almost clear. Drain rice in mesh strainer.
  3. Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until foam subsides, about 2 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and 1 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add rinsed white rice and stir to coat grains with butter; cook, stirring frequently, until grains begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 2 1/4 cups water to boil in small saucepan or in microwave. Add boiling water and second thyme bundle to rice; return to boil, then reduce heat to low, sprinkle cranberries evenly over rice, and cover. Simmer until all liquid is absorbed, 16 to 18 minutes. Off heat, fluff rice with fork.
  4. Combine wild rice, white rice mixture, pecans, and parsley in large bowl; toss with rubber spatula. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste; serve immediately.

Menu Plan Monday

Every Friday I try to plan my menu for the week.  For me, menu planning is a three step process.

Step 1 - The long view - About once a month we load the kids into the minivan and drive to the commissary.  While there we get the boys haircuts and do a BIG shopping trip.  This is generally where we buy out meat and spices and pantry goods.  For this trip we make a very general menu.  Usually this menu consists of about 10 main dishes.  We don't plan to make any particular dish on any particular's just a rough draft.

Step 2 - The short view - Generally on Friday I will make a more detailed list of what we are going to eat for the following week.  I have some general criteria.  I do not cook on Monday, Wednesday or Friday.  These are leftover days.  On Saturday we make a one night meal - something that either doesn't taste good the next day or something that is just to small to make leftovers.  Sunday is out BIG cooking day.  On Sundays we try to make something that not only will provide leftovers for Monday, but will make enough to store in the freezer for another day or something that is exceptionally complex.  Tuesday and Thursday are just regular cooking nights where I will make something that isn't too complex but will make enough for left-overs.  On Saturday someone will go to Wegmans and get the veggies and other random things that we need for the weekly menu.

Step 3 - The microscopic view - Fact is, I can never totally get it together so that we make one shopping trip per week.  Part of the problem is that we just don't have enough refrigerator space for the vast quantities of milk that three boys consume in a week.  The other part of the problem is that I am woefully unorganized.  Finally, something just don't store well.  Things like fish and beansprouts really need to be eaten the day that they are purchased.

After writing all this out...I realized that it might seem a little complicated, but it keeps me (relatively) sane so I'm sticking with it.

So without further ado, here is my Menu Plan for this week.

Tuesday -- Stuffed shells with meat sauce

Thursday --Pork Stir-Fry with Noodles (Lo Mein)

Saturday -- Grilled Salmon with Mango and black bean salas

Sunday -- Grilled Pork Loin with Apple-Cherry Filling with Caraway on a Gas Grill

Friday, September 17, 2010

What a Crock!

The very first kitchen gadget that I ever bought was a crockpot.  I bought it when I lived in the dorms in college.  My Kitchen consisted of a microFridge and the crockpot.  I learned how to make chili, beef stew and that was about it.  The crockpot filled the entire dorm with the smell of whatever it was that I was having for dinner that night, and I can tell you that it was far better than the microwaved Kraft dinner that just about everyone else was having.

Over the intervening years I have had 3 different slow cookers.  The one from college was a small round one without a removable insert.  Eventually washing it out in the sink in the bathroom fried the electronics and it stopped working. 

When I got married we bought another crockpot and learned a few more recipes like chicken chili. 

After bringing 3 hungry boys into the world our little round crockpot wasn't cutting the mustard anymore.  We upgraded to the super sized oval model with a removable (and therefore MUCH easier to clean) insert.  I have been happily feeding my family slow cooked meals ever since. 

I realize that slowcooker cooking isn't generally considered "gourmet" but it's still a great way to get dinner on the table and still be able to maintain a shred of your sanity.  And don't let anyone tell you that the only thing you can make is chili or beef stew.  Case in point:

Slow cooker Chicken with White Wine and Tarragon
(from some Cooks Illustrated recipe book that I can't remember) 

1.  Brown the chicken.  Ok - fact is I HATE having to brown meat before I put it in the crock pot.  For me, crock pot cooking is all about throwing some stuff in, setting the timer and walking away.  The browning really harshes my crock pot mellow....but the results are worth it, so I'll suck it up. 

2.  Cook the veggies until soft (ugh again with the stove top!!) add some garlic and then deglaze with some white wine - we're talking, the recipe takes about 1/2 a bottle of wine the rest you can do with as you see fit.  

3.  Put it all in the crock pot with some carrots for about 4 hours on low.

4.  Take a Nap, get your hair done, watch Oprah....whatever floats you boat...

5.  Remove the chicken breasts and add a whole bunch of cream mixed with some flour.  Cook on high for about 15 min.  This takes the dish from being relatively low fat to a cholesterol bonanza...but hey, you only live once right?

6.  Add tarragon and some lemon juice and serve!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Top Chef

Top Chef DC finished up last night.  I'm not going to tell you who won, but I will tell you who didn't win.  A chef named Kelly Liken was voted off in round thirteen.  What I'm about to tell you say some unpleasant things about my character, but I'll tell you anyway.

From the beginning, I didn't want Kelly to win.  In fact I wanted her to be voted off on the first episode.  Why, you may ask, did I so dislike this woman?  You see...Kelly and I have a history.

Okay...that's not entirely true, but I did know Kelly when we were kids.  We went to camp together over 20 years ago, and I didn't like her.  I honestly can't remember WHY I didn't like her.  I hadn't thought of her for years before a friend of mine mentioned that someone from Pittsburgh was going to be on Top Chef.  When I saw who it was all the 20 year old animosity bubbled to the surface.  I wanted her to fail and fail big.

I said to myself "Pah!!!  I won't even give her the satisfaction of watching the show."  Because I'm sure that she was thinking about whether or not I, someone she hadn't seen or thought about for 20 years,  was watching.  But I still watched.  Fact is.....Kelly is a really good chef.  She came up with amazing dishes....things that I couldn't have put together with twice the time and a full team of sous chefs. All of the chefs were amazing...I can't imagine where they get the inspiration to come up with such fascinating pairings. 

After a while I began to think that she might win....but I was okay with it.  So, Kelly, I'm sorry that you didn't win Top Chef DC.  I though that you were amazing!  And whatever it was that you did to tick me off in 1988, I forgive you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Hi and welcome!  Since we are just meeting I want to tell you a little bit about myself.

I used to just be a foodie.  I ate everything that came my way, even something that wouldn't be considered food in some places.  I visited restaurants that the health department probably should have condemned.  I ate my way across Europe just by pointing at random dishes on the menu.  I had dinner parties in my little apartment where I cooked food from India to Italy and everything in between.  And I love almost all of it.  (The tuna pizza in Germany being one notable exception.) 

And then I had a baby....

and then another..

and then one more.

Suddenly, going out to a nice restaurant was out of the question.  Gallivanting across Europe??  But I didn't want to give up my foodie ways.  And so Foodie Mamma was born.  I still cook ethnic and unique dishes.  I encourage my kids to be adventurous eaters (with varying degrees of success).  And I still love trying new foods.

Let me introduce you to the family:

This is my oldest son.  He is a true foodie in the making!  He will eat just about anything that crosses his plate His favorite dish is Vegetable Curry.  (Of course he did go for an entire year during which the only thing he would eat were hot dogs....but that is past us now.)

This is my middle son.  He is out picky eater.  He has never met a meal that he likes, at least until he tastes it.  Getting him to eat can be a challenge, but we soldier through the best we can.  His favorite food is ketchup.

This is the baby.  His culinary tastes are a total crap-shoot.  Some days he eat anything in front of him. Beans, steak, broccoli, he eats it all with gusto.  Other days he won't even allow such foods on his high chair tray.  They must be immediately swept to the floor lest they offend his delicate sensibilities.  His favorite food is milk (and not that cow stuff either).

This is by husband and co-conspirator.  He is a fabulous cook because he can follow a recipe to the letter.  If a recipe calls for dark brown sugar, you damn well better believe that light brown isn't going to work for him.  Never mind the fact that it takes him four hours to make spaghetti.  His favorite food is real, smoked barbecue.

And this is me.  I am a fly by the seat of your pants, throw it in the pot and hope for the best kind of cook.  I can never make the same dish exactly the same twice.  Generally, my chaotic cooking works out just fine....but sometimes not.  My favorite food is anything that doesn't make a million dirty dishes.

So there you have crazy little world with the kitchen at that center.  I hope that you will stop back and see what we get ourselves into next!